Mike: Well, this should be fun. Pew is reporting that there is greater political polarization than ever in our nation and we are starting a column together. Mixed message?
Cynthia: What scares me about the Pew research is the finding that Republicans like to spread out in large houses with their schools, stores and restaurants several miles away. With 35,000 square miles, technically Maine should be a red state! Thank God your party doesn’t pay much attention to research.
But to answer your question, there is a mixed message here. The research says we are supposed to hate each other, but I’m happy to be breaking out of my “ideological silo” with you! It’s fun already.
Mike: I can’t figure why Democrats want everyone herded into cities. But you’re right, Maine’s rural character correlates with the Republican side. So even if I don’t buy the findings, here’s to a Republican November! See? We’re agreeing already.
Cynthia: Without cities chock-full of Democrats and jobs, there wouldn’t be rural suburbia for GOP sprawl. When it’s functioning, the two-party system is like yin and yang — what appear to be opposite forces are actually interdependent. The problem, of course, is sometimes it doesn’t function. Identifying the root cause of the problem is challenging. Is it money in politics? Media duality? Or Couch Potato Syndrome?
Mike: There is a joke there about Democrats and jobs, but I’ll let that softball cross the plate. Anyway, comparing these Pew findings with modern reporting, my guess is a lot of the polarization is driven by the news cycle and Internet. If Republicans say “black,” Democrats reflexively say “white.” And if Democrats say “up,” it is clearly “down” for Republicans. Trying to get ahead of the messaging cycle locks either side into positions before serious consideration can occur.
Cynthia: Pew confirms what I have suspected for some time: There isn’t more partisanship because of the two parties. Rather, the Democratic and Republican parties are more extreme because so many people have dropped out. And I get it — people are very busy! Men are golfing, and women are taking care of everyone. Being a member of a political party means you actually have to do something — go to a caucus and listen, eat bad food and hand out leaflets at the transfer station. Then there are all those checks to write.
It’s so much easier to say, “I’m independent,” and pour yourself another drink.
Mike: Political parties do fail miserably at the party side. Throwing campaign parties is the one place Democrats are fiscally conservative. And I agree that busyness or apathy are issues, but isn’t it a chicken-or-egg problem? Are voters generally apathetic, allowing some voices to echo more loudly, or do the loud voices turn off those in the middle?
Cynthia: I don’t know about chickens, but in my flower garden neglect empowers and emboldens weeds.
Mike: Weed is probably a topic for another day. So what is the takeaway? Independents should re-engage with the party system? Or should they just vote for a guy with a mustache like Angus?
Cynthia: Mike, I’m willing to discuss and debate just about any political issue with you, but I draw the line at facial hair.
Mike: I suppose there needs to be a line somewhere. But the logical next question is: so what? Is polarization actually impacting the functioning of government? What say you about its impact on Augusta?
Cynthia: Polarization is affecting our friendships, our families, and our governing — but to less an extent in Maine, thankfully. To those who don’t like the partisan status quo, I say, “Get off the couch!” Less politically polarized people are also less politically active people, according to Pew. Moderates, independents and all others who self-medicate with labels other than Democrat or Republican need to start showing up. Until there is a viable alternative to the two-party system that will enable us to govern ourselves, whining isn’t an option.
Mike: Heartily agree about no whining. But what I see in Maine, despite what some say, things actually do work fairly well. There are some big issues about which there are general philosophical disagreements. Those are difficult to reconcile or compromise on, which is why we have elections. But in the general day-to-day, things work. Much has been made about Gov. LePage’s vetoes, but over 700 bills became law without a veto since Justin Alfond took over the Senate. But that doesn’t fit the narrative that your side wants to create.
Cynthia: I wouldn’t use the word “narrative” to describe the governor’s four years in office and 182 vetoes. “Tragedy” is more like it, with a much anticipated catharsis come November.
Mike: On that, we’ll just have to agree to disagree.